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Saker Falcon
Falco cherrug

Status: Endangered

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Altai Falcon, Falco altaicus, Saker.

Falco cherrug
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical/Indomalayan/Palearctic. Breeds from central Europe east to SIBERIA, MONGOLIA, and western CHINA south through southwestern RUSSIA, UKRAINE, and IRAN; winters from southern Europe south to northeastern Africa and northwestern INDIA. more....

Subspecies: 2 races. F. c. cherrug: Central Europe east through southwestern RUSSIA, UKRAINE, and IRAN to Yenisey River and Altai foothills; winters from Europe and northeastern Africa east to northwestern INDIA; F. c. milvipes: southeastern SIBERIA, northern MONGOLIA, and northern CHINA south to west and central CHINA; winters from IRAN east to NEPAL and northwestern INDIA, TIBET, and central CHINA. more....

Taxonomy: The Saker Falcon forms a superspecies with other members of the subgenus Hierofalco (Kleinschmidt 1901), including F. biarmicus, F. jugger, and F. rusticolus (Nittinger et al. 2007). This group may also include the Black Falcon (F. subniger) of Australia (Wink et al. 2004). The enigmatic "Altai Falcon" (F. altaicus), which is known from the Altai and Sayan Mountains of Russia, has been regarded as a color morph of the Saker Falcon (Stresemann and Amadon 1979, Amadon and Bull 1988), synonymous with F. cherrug milvipes (Stepanyan 1990), conspecific with F. rusticolus (Cheng 1987), specifically distinct (Ellis 1995, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001), or as a hybrid between F. cherrug and F. rusticolus (Fox and Potapov (2001). The latter authors concluded that the "Altai Falcon" is a hybrid of first or subsequent generations between the Gyrfalcon and Saker Falcon, with characters of the saker predominating. Because of the small range of these birds and the lack of genetic isolation, they thought it is unlikely that the Altai Falcon is an emerging species in its own right. Wink et al. (2004) found three genetic lineages within the Saker Falcon, based on their analysis of nucleotide sequences of the cytochrome b gene, but they found no evidence of an "Altai Falcon," or any other saker subspecies, at the DNA level. more....

Movements: Partial migrant (Bildstein 2006). Birds from the northern part of the breeding range are highly migratory, but those in more southerly populations are more sedentary, if there is an adequate prey base. Birds wintering along the Red Sea coastline of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Kenya are of the race cherrug, which breeds mainly to the west of the great mountain ranges of central Asia (Dixon 2005). Passage of sakers occurs in the Middle East mostly from mid-September through November, with the peak return passage occurring from mid-February to Aprill; straggers are recorded at late as mid-May (Dixon op cit.). more....

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in forested steppe, steppe, semi-deserts, open grasslands, and other dry country habitat with scattered trees, cliffs, or electricity pylons, particularly near water. Generally seen perched on a cliff or utility tower, where the surrounding landscape can be surveyed for prey. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: On the breeding range, it feeds mainly on small mammals (susliks, hamsters, voles) and medium-sized birds (rooks, magpies, rollers, larks). In areas where mammalian prey populations are depressed, birds become a more important part of the diet. Kleptoparasitizes prey from other species of birds, including raptors, in some areas, including Serbia (Puzovic (2008). more....

Breeding: In the Asian portion of its range, the Saker Falcon nests in the old nests of other raptors and ravens in trees, on bare ledges or in potholes of rocky cliffs, or even on the bare ground. In the European portion of the range, it is increasingly nesting on electricity pylons or power poles. In some countries, e.g., Hungary and Slovakia, sakers rely heavily on artificial nesting platforms and boxes installed by conservation groups on high voltage power poles. Clutch size is usually 3-5 eggs, but varies significantly across years (Potapov et al. 2002). Nest sites are often used in consecutive years. The eggs are white with a dense suffusion of reddish-brown pigment. In Bulgaria, the incubation period is ca. 30 days, and the nestling period is ca. 40-45 days (Domuschiev et al. 2005). more....

Conservation: Breeding populations of the Saker Falcon declined markedly in the 20th century, especially after World War II, owing mostly to changes in agricultural practices by the former Soviet Union (Baumgart and Haraszthy 1997, Dixon 2007, 2009). Numbers have declined even more drastically in large portions of its range in recent years, mostly as the result of over-harvesting of birds for the falconry trade in the Arabian Peninsula. Direct human persecution, electrocution, and pesticide poisoning may also cause some minor losses. According to Nagy and Demeter (2006), European populations underwent a large decline (>20%) from 1990 to 2000. However, in some countries, the breeding population has increased as the species has adapted to nesting in the disused nests of other species located on electricity pylons. Whether this behavior represents a switch from tree-nesting, or supplements it, is not clear in some areas (Dixon 2007), but it has doubtless led to an expansion of the breeding range into areas lacking trees or cliffs suitable for nesting. The provision of artificial nest sites, both in trees and on pylons, has also enabled population increases in some areas, e.g., Hungary (Dudas et al. 2004). The status of the Saker Falcon was upgraded to Endangered from "Least Concern" by BirdLife International in 2004, based on the assumption (not necessarily valid) that the breeding population had undergone a global decline of 53-75% over three generations (= 15 years). A recent review of its status by Andrew Dixon and others led to its reclassification as Vulnerable. However, in 2012, BirdLife changed the global status back to Endangered. more....

Population Estimates: The European population was estimated at 470 to 670 breeding pairs by BirdLife International and the European Bird Census Council (2000) and later at 380 to 540 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2004). Dixon (2007) revised the estimate upward to 579-812 breeding pairs, based on the combined estimates from individual countries, some of which were supported by only limited data. Using the same method, Ragyov et al. (2009) put the Western Palearctic population, as defined by Cramp et al. 1980), at 713-842 breeding pairs, but did not include data from several eligible Asian countries, including Iran, Iraq, and western Kazakhstan. A majority of the global population breeds in Asia, where Dixon (2009) estimated the breeding population at 8,000-17,000 breeding pairs and concluded that it was probably declining overall. However, he emphasized that the data from most of the Asian countries are too limited to yield a precise population estimate, or even a meaningful assessment of the status of the saker within their borders. more....

Important References: 
Baumgart, W. 1991. [The Saker Falcon]. Neue Brehm-Bücherei no. 514.
  Ziemsen Verlag, Wittenberg, Germany. (In German)
Cade, T.R. 1982. Falcons of the world. Cornell University Press, Ithaca,
Dixon, A. 2007. Saker Falcon breeding population estimates.
  Part 1: Europe. Falco 29:4-12.
Dixon, A. 2009. Saker Falcon breeding population estimates. Part 2: Asia.
  Falco 33:4-10.
Eastham, C.P. 2000. Morphological studies of the Saker (Falco cherrug
  Gray, 1833) and closely allied species. Ph.D. dissertation, University of
  Kent, Kent, England.
Ellis, D.H. 1995. What is Falco altaicus? Journal of Raptor Research
Ellis, D.H. 1995. The Altai Falcon: origin, morphology, and distribution.
  Pp. 143-168 in Proceedings of the Specialist Workshop, Abu Dhabi, United
  Arab Emirates. Middle East Falcon Research Group, Abu Dhabi.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Fox, N., and E. Potapov. 2001. (Abstract) Altai Falcon: subspecies, hybrid
  or colour morph? Pp. 66-67 in Proceedings of the 4th Eurasian Conference on
  Raptors, Seville, Spain, 25-29 September 2001.
Gombobaatar, S., D. Sumiya, O. Shagdarsuren, E. Potapov, and N. Fox.
  2004. Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug milvipes Jerdon) mortality
  in central Mongolia and population threats. Mongolian Journal of Biological
  Sciences 2:13-21.
Nittinger, F., A. Gamauf, W. Pinsker, M. Wink, and E. Haring. 2007.
  Phylogeography and population structure of the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug)
  and the influence of hybridization, mitochondrial and microsatellite data.
  Molecular Ecology 16:1496-1517.
Orta, J. 1994. Saker Falcon. Pp. 273-274 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and
  J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World
  vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Potapov, E.R., N.C. Fox, D. Sumiya, and S. Gombobaatar. 2001.Home ranges
  and habitat use of breeding Saker Falcons (Falco cherrug) in Mongolia. Pp.
  144-154 in Proceedings of the II International Conference on
  the Saker Falcon and Houbara Bustard, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Sites of Interest:
Conservation of the Saker in the Carpathian Basin
Information on migratory movements of satellite-tagged sakers.
Saker Falcon photos.
Save the Raptors
Conservation of Imperial EAgle and Saker Falcon in Bulgaria.
Middle East Falcon Research Group
Promotes many aspects of falcons and falconry.
Species account, with an emphasis on European populations.
Southeast European Saker Falcon Network
A group of organizations located in the Saker Falcon western breeding range dedicated to maintaining local populations and preventing extinction.

Angelov, Ivaylo
Delos Santos, Johannes
Dobrev, Dobromir
Ellis, David H.
Galushin, Vladimir
Gamauf, Anita
Gombobaatar, Sundev
Harness, Richard
Jais, Markus
Karyakin, Igor
Ma, Ming
Nikolenko, Elvira
Prommer, Mátyás
Ragyov, Dimitar
Sandor, Attila
Schröpfer, Libor
Vetrov, Vitaly
Widmer, Eric

Last modified: 8/20/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Saker Falcon Falco cherrug. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 Oct. 2021

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